Saturday, October 10, 2009

Border fence divides more than nations, landowner says

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
October 10, 2009
by David Sikes

BROWNSVILLE — Ray Loop and his family have a rural Brownsville address. But the family also lives on the Mexico side of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Tactical Infrastructure project.

Translation: They live south of the infamous Border Fence. The Loop homestead is among hundreds of properties suffering the misfortune of being between a massive 18-foot steel wall and the Rio Grande.

More than 400 Texans have had land condemned by the Feds for the wall’s right of way. The U.S. government has erected about 70 miles of fence in the Rio Grande Valley alone. But that’s not half the problem, Loop said.

In some areas this wall is a mile or two from the river, effectively enclosing large tracts of land and greatly reducing their values. Why not build it closer to the river? An international treaty prohibits a wall of this magnitude from following the exact path of the Rio Grande because the barrier might push floodwaters into Mexico. Along certain stretches of the border, though, there is no fence for miles. These gaps are difficult to explain, but speculation is that influential landowners along the border got special exemptions and no fence.

Homeland Security also has enjoyed special legal exemptions and regulatory waivers from such high federal authorities as the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

Loop said real estate inside the wall is now difficult to insure because of uncertainty, and that many financial institutions refuse to accept these properties as collateral for loans.
For the past 17 months the Loop family, who has farmed this land for three generations, has been fighting a legal battle to address a variety of concerns.

Essentially they’re fighting to include favorable fine print written into a pending agreement with Homeland Security. Details such as access to their land sit high on the Loops’ list of fine-print items.

The fence, which actually is a wall of hollow steel pipes concreted six feet into the ground and then filled with additional concrete, will be fitted with gates. Right now, the location of these gates are represented as gaps in the wall.

And nobody in government can tell the Loops whether their gate will be electronic or padlocked. If the gate is not electronic, then Loop’s little girl won’t be able to open it when she walks to the school bus stop. It’d be too heavy.

If the gate is operated by an electronic keypad, then should Loop tell his daughter the code? Loop wonders how valuable these gate codes will be to drug smugglers and what these ruthless criminals might do to gain the number sequences.

Loop can’t even get the government to tell him whether he’ll have 24-hour access to his home and crop fields. Or whether a U.S. Border Patrol agent must be present when the gates are opened. He wants such details written into the agreement.

Loop farms about 2,000 acres of some high-tech and diverse produce that sometimes must be harvested at night. It’s all behind the gate.

What about his workers? Will they have unlimited access to the farm? Or must everyone undergo extensive background checks? Will the Feds limit the number of folks with access privileges?

The government also hasn’t told Loop whether his dove hunting operation will be allowed to continue or what security level might trigger the prohibition of guns behind the wall.

Other concerns include fire safety. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has concerns about wildfires and the safety of firefighters and wildlife caught behind the fence. But on a personal level, Loop wonders whether local firefighters and other emergency crews will get through the gate in time to save his burning home or tend to his family’s health.

And not every landowner within the wall has an access gate. In some cases, adjacent property owners will be forced to borrow a neighbor’s gate to access their own land.

What a mess.

No comments: